Passion of the People – 1.4.2

Perception and Interpretation of Cultural Landscapes 

There is a huge variety of cultural landscapes. They all have different characteristics: observing a landscape is a process that has to be adapted to each one. Sometimes, the observation and the interpretation seem to be simple. But in reality, some “basic” cultural landscapes may contain historical and evolutionary elements that deserve to be better explained and understood. In fact, some landscapes present more difficult elements to analyse. 

Our perception and interpretation of landscapes is different from person to person. They show different feelings and interests for each person, even if some historical or architectural elements can’t be analysed differently. 

Specialists have developed several models of interpretation. For example, the geographer Donald Meinig interprets cultural landscapes by observing the different layers of culture and types of signatures left by this culture in terms of architecture, trade, spatial layout, etc. This model is called the “Core-domain-sphere” and shows that, most of the time, cultural influences come from the core of the region and then dilute around it.

According to Donald Meinig, when we are interpreting landscapes, we have to analyse the different elements that reveal the past, reflect the present and shape the future of an area (e.g., infrastructures, names of streets/buildings…, natural elements, local customs as well as other material and immaterial cultural elements).

In the last decades, cultural landscapes are facing evolutions because of socio-economic and environmental transformations. Some of them are threatened by different factors. The evolution of mentalities towards environment protection, capitalism limits and the various crises that impact our societies can reconnect us with our past and our culture, which must be preserved to ensure a good future for the next generations. The discovery of cultural landscapes and monuments may be of interest to some people and can be an opportunity for the tourism sector. Public participation has to be more and more important to preserve the cultural sites affected by the current issues. Inhabitants of cultural landscapes have different perceptions of their environment according to their place in the society and their profession. It is important to make them participate to find effective solutions to valorise historic landscapes and to improve the quality of life.

The Core-domain-sphere model, by Donald Meinig

Further Resources

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Blaenavon Industrial Landscape (UNESCO/NHK)

Agricultural Landscape of Southern Öland (UNESCO/NHK) 

Cultural Landscapes and Patterns

Online Resources

PAESAGGIO, TRA PERCEZIONE E VALORE – Il Giornale delle Fondazioni

Visioni del paesaggio : tra rappresentazione e realta – Open Edition Journals

Further Readings

Cultural Landscape, Urban Settlement and Dweller’s Perception: A Case Study of a Vernacular Village in Northern Thailand

Intercultural landscapes: towards an interpretation

Landscape Culture – Culturing Landscapes The Differentiated Construction of Landscapes

Tourism and Cultural Landscapes in Southern China’s Highlands  

Role of Multicultural Identity in Landscape Perception and Methodological Possibilities of Its Interdisciplinary Analysis 

La dimensione culturale-identitaria di paesaggio – Ginevra Cerrina Feroni

Tutelare il paesaggio: percezione e interpretazione del paesaggio testimone dell’identità locale – M.Irena Mantello


Teaching Materials

Il rapporto tra popolazione e paesaggio

For Kids